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31 in 31

Inside look at Arizona Coyotes

New era begins with Tocchet as coach, veterans Hjalmarsson, Stepan acquired in trades

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Arizona Coyotes.

The Arizona Coyotes' plan to build a Stanley Cup contender hasn't changed, but some of the personnel trying to execute it have been replaced since the end of last season.

Typically, a coaching change would be the most notable offseason move a team could make. But in the case of the Coyotes, it's the change in their leadership. 

Shane Doan, who has been with the Winnipeg/Arizona franchise for all 21 of his NHL seasons and has been captain for the past 14 years, was told on June 19 that he would not be re-signed. The 40-year-old free agent forward announced his retirement on Aug. 30.

[COYOTES 31 IN 31: Top prospects | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

"It's time to move forward," Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said. "We're trying to build a winning team, not a situation where we put out some players that some of the fans might like and we're not going to be competitive anyway, so who cares. We're here to win now, and I think you can see by some of our offseason moves that we're going to build a team that can compete and compete in the near term."

Among those moves was hiring Rick Tocchet as coach on July 11. Tocchet takes over for Dave Tippett, who after eight seasons came to a mutual decision with the Coyotes to leave.

Tocchet played three seasons with the Coyotes (1997-2000) and was an assistant from 2005-07. He spent the past three seasons as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup the past two.

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"I think what he's learned during that time has been immense," general manager John Chayka said of Tocchet's time with the Penguins. "Pittsburgh has got a lot of talented players, but they also have an environment that harbors winning. He's been a big part of that.

"He's got a large degree of success in different role and capacities as a player and as a coach, and he was the right fit for us."

It will be Tocchet's job to mold a young team; as many as nine players 22 or younger could be in the opening night lineup. Among them could be forwards Dylan Strome (20), Clayton Keller (19 on July 29) and Christian Fischer(20). 

"We've got young players just trying to break in, trying to get through," Chayka said. "At times they need a kick, at times they need a hug. I think [Tocchet] is the guy to pull the right strings at the right time."

Tocchet, who coached the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-10, will have help from some recently acquired veteran players, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and center Derek Stepan, who arrived in separate trades on June 23.

Hjalmarsson, 30, is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks and has 143 points (23 goals, 120 assists) in 623 NHL games.

Stepan, 27, has 360 points (128 goals, 232 assists) in 515 NHL games, all with the New York Rangers. He has been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his seven NHL seasons, helping the Rangers reach the Cup Final in 2014 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2012 and 2015.

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Stepan and Hjalmarsson join defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski as the new veteran core. It wouldn't be surprising for the Coyotes to name Ekman-Larsson captain with Stepan, Hjalmarsson and Goligoski as alternates.

"I'm looking forward to getting some new young minds, I guess," Stepan said. "As a 27-year-old saying that, it seems weird, but I love the idea of continuing to be a better leader and finding ways to lead in all different types of situations."

The Coyotes also made a major change in goal. Antti Raanta, who was acquired in the trade that brought Stepan to Arizona, is expected to take over for Mike Smith as the starter. Smith, Arizona's No. 1 goalie for the past six seasons, was traded to the Calgary Flames on June 17.

Raanta has never been a full-time NHL starter. The hope is that he grows into the role, with the Coyotes growing into contenders.

"We want to be relevant," Tocchet said. "I don't know about wins and losses. I'm not going to say we're going to make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. But I will tell you if I can make these guys inch by inch every day get better, I think it's a success. We can establish that. I know we will get better."

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